There are many things - factors - that could potentially impact the final evaluation of any single shave. The usual standard shave ratings usually are: SAS - Socially Acceptable Shave, DFS - Damn Fine Shave, and BBS - Baby Butt Smooth Shave. We use these abbreviations when we rate and label a shave. They come to mind when we ask ourselves "what kind of shave did I have today?"
A SAS ranked shave are the shaves where most of the whiskers have been knocked down, you look OK from a few feet away but under the "touch test" your face isn't smooth...you can feel stubble. This is usually a rushed shave, for when you are in a hurry and don't have time for anything better. This a "getting by" type of shave. Generally you look good but it could be better, given the time. If looking OK is all that's important then a SAS can be considered a good shave...one that gets you by in a pinch.
A DFS result is what many men consider the minimally acceptable shave. Anything less, results in a "bad shave" day. This type of shave is a very good shave but not the best possible shave. To the touch, most of your face is smooth but there are spots that could be totally smooth with a little more effort. This level of "goodness" will probably suit all situations outside of the most intimate where you are up close and personal with your "significant other" and getting "touchy feely" is going to happen.
Now we come to the Big Kahuna of shaves, the BBS. The Baby Butt Smooth shave is totally smooth with no stubble being felt to the touch. Many men chase this type of shave and may end up smooth but irritated and usually with nicks.or cuts. The ultimate test of a BBS is the "Cotton Ball Test" - rubbing a cotton ball over the skin and no cotton fibers being snagged. This level of shave constitutes the pinnacle and covers all social situations...nothing is better and there is no higher achievement as a wet shaver. Or is there a higher level of shave?
Now this is the rub. You can achieve a BBS level shave, but in achieving it, you irritate your skin and the experience is painful and uncomfortable during a large portion of the entire shave. Does the closeness of a shave really matter in the long run? Of course it doesn't, but how often do you think about the other factors, the forgotten factors? There are quite a few of them once you start thinking about it.
Speed - How often have you heard in shaving commercials over the past decades that this product or that one is "faster" - "quicker" - "takes less time" - "saves time" - is the "speedier" solution to your morning shave routine? It seems everyone is in a hurry to accomplish a shave...at least the marketers think it's important.
So we are usually in a hurry in the morning. We don't want to waste time and God forbid if we should end up "running late". Being late to work, an interview, getting the kids to school, etc., etc., etc. is just not an option. When you are running late, shaving quickly and efficiently is definitely important, but on the normal day, I would much rather have an enjoyable, comfortable, shave than a quick one. That's why I usually shave at night, so I don't have to concentrate on doing my shaves quickly. Whiskers grow very little as you sleep, therefore shaving at night does not result in morning or even afternoon or evening stubble, unless your beard would even if you shaved in the morning.
In our rushed busy lifestyles not wasting time is important so we maintain our schedules. Slowing down is never an option anymore; always faster, quicker, sooner. I hate being a slave to the clock, but that's our world. We spend enough time shaving to get the job done right without wasting time and ending up late. When speed is really important a SAS level of shave is usually all we get, but it turns out being just enough.
Comfort - You can achieve a Baby Butt Smooth shave, but what does it matter if you irritate your skin, setting it on fire for the next 12 hours? Pain is not a good thing and should be avoided whenever possible. A shave that, start to finish, feels smooth is different than achieving a smooth (faced) shave. Shaving smoothly means it feels good while you are doing it, no tugging, pulling, no pain. Getting a smooth shave could mean a BBS ending or that the act of shaving was comfortable. Confusing, isn't it? I would much rather have a smooth, comfortable shave than a shave that was painful and irritating but resulted in a very close smooth (face feel) shave.
Easy - Often a shave is described as being an easy, comfortable, smooth shave. What does that mean really? I usually think of that description as the shave being simple to perform (no difficulty with hardware or software working as they are suppose to work) that felt good and the results were acceptable, usually resulting in DFS or BBS. The shave did not require excessive effort, thought, or problem solving...it was easy.
The Process - This leads to a related but significantly different factor that the end result of the shave isn't as important as what goes on during the shave. In other words, the process from start to finish - The Zen Factor. Yes, there definitely is a meditative element to shaving. Shaving is a solitary activity. Some like to shave in silence so they can hear the feedback sounds a razor blade makes as it mows down whiskers. Many though listen to music while shaving, but it can, at those special times, have an hypnotic result, not unlike driving and "waking up" so to speak at your destination and not really remembering all the turns and events between starting and arriving at the destination. It's being "in the zone" and getting lost in the process. When this type of shave occurs it is relaxing and satisfying. Surprisingly it usually results in a BBS conclusion. You lose time and would like to remember all the elements of the shave but you don't. It doesn't really matter though because the inner peace obtained from the shave is worth the not knowing. Those are special shaves and don't happen often.
Efficient - Oh, there I've said it..."efficiency". Some say efficient when they mean aggressive. Whiskers being cut efficiently means usually that the razor and blade remove them quickly, easily, and with minimal pressure applied while doing it. It is related to the qualities of an "easy" shave, but not exactly. When I hear the word "efficient" I think more about the razor or razor blade than the shave itself. It could be a descriptive way of relating how all the different elements (razor, blade, brush, cream) worked together during the shave.
Performance - This factor related to the competitor or sports minded individual. Learning the methods of Traditional Wet Shaving is not unlike learning a new sport. You have to train your muscles and obtain the right muscle memory of the shaving motions. There is a skill involved and a learning curve. Once a Traditional Wet Shaver has conquered one of the various aspects of the shave there is a great sense of accomplishment and pride. This spurs the shaver on to bigger and better things...usually it means buying more products and equipment though. Nevertheless, learning how to wet shave well does provide a heart warming feeling of well being and accomplishment that is often hard to find in our modern existence.
Does that cover all the factors of a shave? Almost, but not quite. Traditional Wet Shaving has a factor or element that general wet shaving does not have and definitely shaving with an electric razor doesn't have in it's favor. The factor I am referring to is housed in the descriptive word "Traditional". At least for me, a major element of Traditional Wet Shaving is the connection to the past. Not just the historical elements of using double edge razors, vintage razors or razors fashioned in the likeness of shaving equipment dating back a century. No, shaving in a traditional method allows me to be connected to my past. My father and grandfathers and great grandfathers. I have my father's last razor, a 1966 Gillette Slim Adjustable. Using this razor stirs my emotions. Some good and others I must work through with tears, namely grief and sorrow for the loss following his early death. But there's more than just family history or a history of a simpler way of life from days gone by. There is a connecting to a method of grooming from the past and preserving it for the future.
It's a Man Thing - Our modern society has emasculated men and young men.in so many ways. Men are far less connected to nature or the earth. Survival doesn't require physical strength and stamina, those things men are equipped for...hunting, fighting, protecting, being powerful. This is one reason I think Traditional Wet Shaving has started to become more popular. Yes, it provides the best shave possible without causing ingrown hairs, razor bumps and irritation, but it also allows a man to "feel like a man". Without being sexist at all, but this feeling is not bad although many misconstrue feeling manly as being a bad thing. If more men took pride in being a "real man" in a traditional sense (honesty, integrity, pride, trustworthiness, noble of heart, chivalrous, etc.), being good fathers and role models for our youth, our society would have far fewer problems and social ills. So a factor of the shave also involves how it makes you feel, beyond the physical sensations. How does it feel in your heart and soul. Feeling like a real man...a good man.
REVISION: Getting In Touch with the Softer Side - As my good friend Svein pointed out, in opposition to traditional wet shaving being a manly thing there's the yang to the ying. It helps us to get in touch with our feminine side as well. We men are sometimes short on pampering ourselves or want to admit we simply like the luxury of using a badger hair brush, soft and caressing to the skin. We blanch sometimes at the idea of using a perfumy scented soap, after shave or cologne like lilac, rose, or jasmine but there's something we like about it and often least expect that we enjoy it. Men are not unlike women in enjoying some of the finer things in life. Our society has molded us into being resistant to those feminine tendencies and as the pendulum swings in popular trends from the feminine to the manly we either go along with it or resist. Traditional Wet Shaving allows us to keep our feet firmly planted in the middle and enjoy the full spectrum. Fashion and trends change over time, but what you do in the privacy of your shave den is eternally yours to indulge.
To sum it all up, you can pick any factor of Traditional Wet Shaving that you desire. You can shift from day to day focusing on different elements which can serve a range of purposes from simple reduction of whiskers, to being physically presentable to society, to as lofty a purpose as you need, including the maintenance of good mental health or simply the sensation of "feeling" like a man again. That's the beauty of Traditional Wet Shaving, you can make and mold it into whatever medicine your body, soul, spirit and mind might need that day to remain healthy.
Good Shaves, Be Happy, Be Safe